Editor's Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of The Collegian.
Prayer is an important part of faithful life for people of many faiths, so I want to talk about what I believe to be the purpose of prayer and how I pray. Despite prayer being more explicitly religious than the topics of some of the previous columns, I do think that everybody, even the non-religious, will be able to find something that is at least interesting and hopefully useful in this piece.
My prayer is, first and foremost, about building a personal connection with God. Therefore, some more information about our relationship with God is necessary before we can understand how prayer can build that relationship.
The first piece of information is the answer to: "What is the purpose behind God’s whole project of creating the heavens and the Earth and populating them with all sorts of plants and creatures, including us humans." Although that is a wholly unanswerable question, the related information that is pertinent to my purposes is. It seems that it is important to God that we be given the opportunity to be good or be bad, and that the decision is up to us. Without this capacity for free will, the whole conception of rewarding or punishing people in the afterlife for their actions in their life seems very bizarre.
So God has made us as choosing agents. This is important.
Next, we need to understand why it is important to live a good life as God has prescribed. Here is a quote from C.S. Lewis in “Mere Christianity” to get us started:
“I think every one who has some vague belief in God, until he becomes a Christian, has the idea of an exam .... One of the very things Christianity was designed to do was to blow this idea to bits. God has been waiting for the moment at which you discover that there is no question of earning a pass mark in this exam or putting Him in your debt. ... If you devoted every moment of your whole life exclusively devoted to His service you could not give Him anything that was not in a sense His own already.
"So that when we talk of a man doing anything for God or giving anything to God, I will tell you what it is really like. It is like a small child going to its father and saying ‘Daddy, give me sixpence to buy you a birthday present.’ Of course, the father does, and he is pleased with the child’s present. It is all very nice and proper, but only an idiot would think that the father is sixpence to the good on the transaction.”
This inability to pay back what God has given us shows us that the reason to follow God’s instructions for a good life is not that it will make God better off, but that it will make us good. The child, even though it doesn’t know it, buys their father a gift with the father’s own money to teach itself the joy of giving a gift.
With these two ideas, that we are choosing agents and that our relationship with God is for our own improvement and not the enrichment of God, we can begin our discussion of prayer.
Prayer, because it is a part of our relationship with God, must be aimed at making us better people. However, because God, in making us choosing agents, has shown that He wants us to do and earn things for ourselves, will only help us in certain ways. Just as a good teacher shows students how to find the answer for themselves instead of simply telling them the answer, God will only help you find your own way to goodness; he will not make you good.
Therefore, prayer with respect to becoming wise, or kind, or generous or the like is not aimed at being given what you are asking for, but a little nudge along the right path. Although you may receive a significant revelation if God sees fit to give it, what is more likely is that the simple act of resolving to yourself to become a certain way contributes to goodness.
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There is also the part of prayer that is thanking God for what He has given us. However, this is a part that requires care, lest we should thank Him for things we ought not to thank him for, and so harm ourselves. I do not thank God for things I have control over. If I win a volleyball game that was important to me, I do not thank God. It would be awful hubris to believe that God would interfere in a volleyball game.
I do thank Him for what He is responsible for: Causing me and my teammates to be on the Earth at the same time, and subtly pushing us to end up in the same place at the same time. These are things that He did, and I am grateful for them.
Finally, there is a part of prayer that is praying for others. Just as God will not make you wise or kind or generous, He will not do so for others. However, He will guide others, just as He guides you, or subtly push others together, such that they can be resources for each other.
What is also important about praying for others is that it is also about improving yourself. God does not need your help deciding who is in need of His assistance. Nor does a larger volume of people praying for someone change His mind about where He is needed. Praying for others is about building empathy and love for others in yourself.
When I pray, I try to do a little of all of these things. I think about ways that I have improved and want to continue, I think about what I can start improving, and I think about my failures and how to halt a decline. I also thank God for the people in my life and for the opportunities that He has given me to build my relationships with them. Then, I try to think about people toward whom it is easy for me to feel positively. I pray that they are able to get through some struggle or appreciate their successes. Finally, I try to think about people toward whom it is difficult for me to feel positively. I try to understand them and pray that they are able to find their way.
To contribute to The Walk, email Opinions and Columns Editor Conner Evans at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact columnist Cal Pringle at email@example.com.
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